“So how many people in your church have gotten saved over the past year?”

November 6, 2014

Recently I met a man who was new to our United Methodist tradition, and he wanted to find out about our church. He asked—with perfect innocence—”So how many people in your church have gotten saved over the past year?” And a part of me wanted to answer him, “You don’t know much about us Methodists, do you? We don’t do salvation like that. We don’t talk in terms of being saved or getting saved. Salvation is a mysterious process. But we hope that it it least happens around age 12 during confirmation.”

Like I said, a part of me wanted to answer him like that. The truth is, when he asked me that, I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite. I say I believe that making a decision to follow Christ is the most important decision a person must make. I say that eternity hangs in the balance on this decision. I say that apart from the saving work of Christ on the cross, we are all bound for final judgment and hell.

say that I believe that. Yet I don’t preach it enough. I don’t live it out enough through my own personal witness. I don’t pray enough for people’s salvation. I’m not in the habit of meeting people and wondering, prayerfully, if they’ve accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. I mean, sometimes I do, but it’s not a part of my routine; it’s not a part of my lifestyle.

Merciful God, help me change!

The average layperson would be surprised to learn that practically nothing we future Methodist clergy learn in mainline Protestant seminary prepares us for the task of inviting people to respond to the gospel message by accepting God’s gift of salvation in Christ—sometimes known as “leading someone to Christ,” or inviting them to “ask Jesus into their hearts”—call it whatever you want.

No one talks about getting saved!

Why? Our own United Methodist Book of Discipline says the following of our church’s main task:

The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world… (¶ 120)

The people of God, who are the church made visible in the world, must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced. There can be no evasion or delegation of this responsibility; the church is either faithful as a witnessing and serving community, or it loses its vitality and its impact on an unbelieving world. (¶ 129)

By all means, as we Methodists rightly emphasize, the process of “making disciples” includes the lifelong process of being made into disciples—what we call sanctification. Salvation isn’t just a one-time decision that a person makes during an altar call, or at the end of a revival, or during confirmation.

But at some point we must make a decision—a deliberate, conscious choice—to surrender our lives to Christ and follow him. I wonder if many of us pastors don’t like confronting people with this choice because we don’t want to be rejected? So we make the gospel message something that people can’t reject. We’re just happy if people come to church. Maybe while they’re here they’ll become Christians by osmosis!

If you listen to my sermons, you’ve probably noticed that I often do invite people to make that choice in response to my message. This is—please note—a relatively recent development in my own preaching, something that’s only happened over the past few years.

But I realize I have a long way to go in order to become the kind of Christian—not to mention pastor—who places a priority on doing what our United Methodist Church says I—and all of us Methodists—ought to be doing: convincing the world of the truth of the gospel or leaving them unconvinced, without evading or delegating this responsibility.

I promise, with God’s help, I’m getting there!

7 Responses to ““So how many people in your church have gotten saved over the past year?””

  1. Christina Says:

    This is probably the biggest problem/challenge I have with Methodists. Why wouldn’t Methodists want to share when they first put their faith in Christ and how their lives have changed since knowing Him. Why is it so mysterious? His death on the cross saved me from my sins…it’s pretty simple.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    Yes, definitely instructed (“Go therefore and make disciples”), and very difficult to do (certainly including by me). I think the “fear of rejection” is a major stumbling block, and especially so with respect to people you know you are going to have to work with or be around for a considerable amount of the future.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Excellent point. I’ve always thought it was easier to witness to strangers than people you know well.

  3. victorgalipi Says:

    Thanks Brent, I needed that. I know that we need to proclaim and live the clear Gospel message of Christ, and I know that I need to be more of an intentional witness for Christ in my own life.

    It would be great in The United Methodist Church if we could be talking about how many people are getting saved through our Gospel witness, instead of how many people are being driven away by our often fuzzy, mushy, compromised and mixed message.

    However, it is one thing to have a clear Gospel message, it is another thing to share it with others in the context of loving and caring relationships.

    That is something I need to work on.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Can you imagine our denomination having a national conversation about this question—how effective we are at leading people to salvation in Christ? It boggles the mind.

      Regardless what most Methodists say they believe, much less what our doctrines say, are we—institutionally speaking—universalists? If not, how can we take the need for personal salvation so lightly?

  4. victorgalipi Says:

    Sadly, Brent, I can’t imagine it. Our idea of making disciples of Jesus Christ seems to be feeding the hungry and spreading malaria nets. Not that there is anything wrong with such things, but making disciples, as Jesus specifically says, means “teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us”. This we most definitely are not doing. We are, at best, teaching them to observe what is politically correct and will not offend anybody–well, not anybody whom it would be politically incorrect to offend.

    Part of the problem is that institutionally, and practically speaking, we are universalists, believing that anyone can be saved by the god of their choice. Because anything else would just be politically correct and offensive.

    Orthodox United Methodists need to be faithful in preaching and teaching the word of God, and we also need to make a stand and call to account those who don’t. Given our top heavy system which is utterly lacking in accountability, I don’t know how we do this, though I do have some ideas. But if we don’t do it, and soon, all that will be left is a dead sect having a form of “godliness” but denying the power of God.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: